Pinter, Dean. Acts. Story of God Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2020. 656 pp. Hb; $49.99. Link to Zondervan
Dean Pinter (PhD in New Testament from Durham University) serves as rector of St. Aidan Anglican Church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He contributed to Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies (InterVarsity, 2013) and Reading Mark in Context: Jesus and Second Temple Judaism (Zondervan, 2018). This Story of God commentary combines clear exposition of the text with insightful reflections on the meaning of Acts in a contemporary context.
In his eleven-page introduction to the book of Acts, Pinter offers for “bits of wisdom for reading Acts.” First, any reading of Acts needs to keep an eye on the gospel of Luke because there are overlapping and complementary themes. Second, read Acts as a story. Try to focus on large chunks of narrative without breaking the book up into chapters and verses. Third, both Luke and Acts are full of drama spanning a long period of time. Pay attention to the places where Luke slows the story down, such as 20:17-23:35 (only a few days). Fourth, pay attention to foreshadowing. Luke tends to introduce characters (Barnabas, Saul, John Mark), drop them and then pick them up again later.
Pinter links the purpose of the book of Acts to its style of literature. If, for example, Acts as a novel, then the purpose would be to entertain (Pervo). Pinter follows Mark Allan Powell and lists six suggested purposes for the book. First, F.C. Bauer suggested the book of Acts provides a peaceful solution for emerging Catholic Christianity. Second, Charles Talbert suggested the book is a polemic confronting heretical Christianity. Third, many commentators consider the book of Acts to be an apologetic, whether for Christianity as a whole or a more specific defense brief for Paul’s trial in Rome. Fourth, many commentaries suggest in evangelistic purpose: the book focuses on non-Christians in the world. Theophilus represents an example of a gentile pagan being confronted with the gospel. Fifth, for many, Luke has a pastoral focus. He is offering strength and comfort to a gentile church. Sixth, many commentaries suggest Luke wrote the book because of theological issues facing the early church. Citing I. Howard Marshall with approval, Luke wrote Acts “to give confidence that the Christian message which they have believed and accepted is valid and true.” Pinter concludes “no one purpose can account for all the rich complexity that exists in Acts” (27).
Pinter highlights four key theological themes for the book. First, Jesus is not alone in his work. Both the Father and the Holy Spirit are active in the expansion of the Gospel. Second, although the phrase Kingdom of God does not occur in Acts as often as in Luke, Pinter sees this as a major theme. The ongoing expansion of the Kingdom is the story of Acts. Third, “witness” is the primary emphasis for the followers of Jesus. Jesus called the original disciples in Jerusalem to be witnesses to what they have seen and heard, and the book concludes with the statement that nothing can hinder the witness of the gospel. Fourth, he highlights the providence of God as a key theme. Beginning with the gift of the Holy Spirit or filling prophecy, to the inclusion of the gentiles later in the book.
The introduction concludes with a helpful page and a half summary of the resources for preaching and teaching the book of acts. He offers two or three brief overviews of the book of Acts, resources for geographical and historical context (Zondervan Atlas of the Bible and the five-volume The Book of Acts in Its First-Century Setting (Eerdmans, 1993-98), several “go-to commentaries for sermon preparation” (Alexander, Dunn, Gaventa, and Wright), critical commentaries (Barrett, Keener, Peterson), and insightful monographs (for example, Kavin Rowe, World Upside Down). A glance at the index of authors shows Pinter cites Dunn, Alexander, Gaventa and Bruce Longenecker most often in the commentary.
As with the other volumes of the Story of God series, the commentary is broken up into a series of chapters which do not follow the chapters Acts. Pinter divides each unit into three sections. First, “Listen to the Story” prints the text of the NIV along with suggested cross references in the Old and New Testaments. Second, “Explain the Story” is a traditional exposition of the unit. He proceeds paragraph-by-paragraph commenting on the English text (only light interaction with the Greek text always appearing in transliteration). There are only a few footnotes to exegetical details or secondary literature. Third, “Live the Story” is a series of brief reflections based on the section. Pinter illustrates these meditations with citations from church history (Augustine, Chrysostom), but also modern Christian writers (Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Frederick Buechner, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis).
Conclusion. In a world where Acts commentaries are often more than a thousand pages (or four thousand for Craig Keener), it is refreshing to read a commentary on Acts that is brief and to the point. Pinter’s style makes this a readable commentary for both laypeople and scholars. Many will find his “Live the Story” sections to be useful in personal devotions accompanied by Bible reading; pastors will discover pointers toward a deeper engagement with the book of Acts in their own teaching and preaching.
Reviews of other commentaries in the Story of God series:
NB: Thanks to Zondervan for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.